Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Court Fines Newspaper Over Publication That El-Rufai ‘Declared N90 Billion Asset’

The Kaduna State High Court has ordered a newspaper to pay Governor Nasir El-Rufai N10 million as damages and tender a public apology to him over a story that the governor declared asset worth N90 billion.
The court gave the order on Monday in a judgment delivered by Justice M.L. Muhammed in a case brought by Mr El-Rufai against Today’s Publishing Company Limited.
The court said the apology must be published in national dailies and also restrained the defendants perpetually from further defaming the governor.

Background

The media outfit in a publication on July 2, 2015 claimed that Mr El-Rufai declared owning N90 billion, including 40 mansions, in his asset declaration forms with the Code of Conduct Bureau.

Mr El-Rufai described the story as untrue and malicious and subsequently instituted the case against the newspaper.

Judgment

In the judgment, the court held that Mr El-Rufai demonstrated, through his pleadings and evidence, that he never declared assets worth N90 billion and 40 mansions.

The content of the judgement is reproduced below.

“The court reiterated the ingredients which a Plaintiff must prove to succeed in an action in defamation to wit; Publication of the offending words; that the words refer to the Plaintiff; that the words are defamatory of the plaintiff; that the words were published to third parties; that the words are false; and that there are no justifiable legal grounds for the said publication.
“In juxtaposing the said ingredients with the instant case, the court held that by Exhibits 1 and 2(The Print and Electronic Versions of the said publication), the plaintiff had shown that indeed the offending material was published by the Defendants to third parties.
“The court also held that by Exhibit 11(The Plaintiff’s Assets’ Declaration Form submitted to the CCB), the Plaintiff had satisfactorily shown that he did not declare assets worth 90 billion naira and 40 mansions, the implication of which is that the words were false and defamatory of the Plaintiff.
“The court also noted that in the course of trial, the DW1 admitted that whereas the publication was made on the 2nd of July, 2015, they went to the CCB and the Media Aide of the Plaintiff to get details of the said declaration on the 3rd of July, 2015, being the following day. So, by implication, they published what they wanted before going to get details of the said declaration.
“The court also noted that DW1 concluded his testimony by admitting that there was no basis for the said publication.

“On the defence of the Defendants, the court held that the Defendants ought to have shown to the court from Exhibit 11-Plaintiff’s Assets’ Declaration Form that indeed the Plaintiff declared 90Billion naira assets and 40 mansions and that having failed to so do.
“The only plausible conclusion would be that the publication was clearly defamatory of the plaintiff. The court further referred to the testimony of the DW1 which was replete with admissions and held that the Defendants had failed to prove the defences of justification, fair comment and qualified privilege.

“On the Plaintiff’s Assets Declaration Forms, which he earlier submitted to the CCB before and after he held offices as DG, BPE and Minister of the FCT-Exhibits DW1, DW2 and DW3, the court held that they were not relevant to the instant case as the case bothered on the Plaintiff’s declaration of 2015 before he took office as Governor of Kaduna State.

“On the whole, the court resolved all the issues for determination in favour of the Plaintiff and entered judgment jointly and severally against the Defendants and in favour of the Plaintiff as follows:

1. N10,000,000.00 as General Damages 

2. An apology to be given the same publicity as the defamatory material.

3. An order of Perpetual Injunction restraining the Defendants from further defaming the Plaintiff.”

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